Where you are is who you are. The further inside you the place moves, the more your identity is intertwined with it. Never casual, the choice of place is the choice of something you crave. Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun
We often assume that the ups and downs of life are associated with the place where certain events in our life occurred. Most people leave it at that, never considering that the house and buildings themselves may have contributed to their feelings of discontent or well-being. Buildings are essentially alive. Suzy Chiazzari
A few years ago I returned to my hometown where one of my previous homes was on the market. I arranged a walk through. This gray stucco bungalow was home to my first marriage and the raising of our children. It was in a neighborhood where parents of similar values were also growing up with their children. Our children went to the same school, making friendships easy and natural among the families. Celebrations and fun times brought us together, as did caring and helping each other in the tough times.
Entering the house, all the memories of living there flooded back. Every cell of my body was alive with remembering. So clearly, I could recall creating a nursery with bright yellows and zoo animals. A yellow polka dot upholstered chair sat in the corner for nursing and singing lullabies. Hard work and love were rubbed into every corner as the upstairs was remodeled to accommodate the next baby. Then it was time for the basement to take shape as the children grew and entertained friends. Birthday parties, overnights, and Christmas by the fire were joys I felt walking through the familiar rooms. Each memory brought a smile and a sense of completion. I also wondered, had I given my children the best childhood I could. Parenting is such a learn as you go kind of experience. What I do know is I loved them with my whole heart. This house was about motherhood.
Caught up in memories and old times, I decided to drive by all the homes I had lived in while in that community. My childhood home was located across from an elementary school. Once gray with white trim, I noticed on this visit that it is now blue and the front of the house has a new bay window. Again, stories came flooding in to join me. Years earlier my father and I had the opportunity to walk through this home when it was up for sale. I remember that he was amazed that so many of the built-ins he designed for our family’s needs were still in place. Cupboards in the bathroom, a desk, shelving in the living room were all just where we had left them. I was amazed by how small the rooms and the backyard seemed to be. The life I remember living there was so large, how could it have fit into these small spaces? In the basement, I played circus using the two swings as my trapeze acts. My stuffed animals were tamed and did tricks. A large and long chalkboard on one wall provided countless hours of playing school. My dad and brothers built an entire city for the American Flyer train that traveled through mountains and neighborhoods, an extensive layout that ran the entire length of the basement. Trains had whistles and smoke came out of smokestacks. Shuffleboard and an old piano were also part of this inside playground. Outside a log cabin was built as well as a tree fort. Summers were joyous in the backyard. A small wading pool, table and chairs for picnics and terraced flower gardens brought magic to this little house. This house was all about growing up – learning who I was as a member of a family, and the gift to exercise my imagination.
When I was in high school my family built a home high on a bluff overlooking the Cedar River. This serene location provided a calming place for the tumultuous years of questioning oneself, the dating scene, the learning’s associated with first jobs, and taking off for college. These were also the years of my mother’s battle with cancer. This house was a place for friends to gather, overnights, boy/girl parties, and bringing home a date. This was also the home of an emerging independence, a readiness to leave home and strike out on my own. While this was a home where I felt safe and loved, so much of my life seemed to be lived outside of this space. Thinking about my future, where I would go to college and what vocation I might pursue, seemed to preoccupy these busy years. This house was about realizing the responsibility and importance of my own journey and seizing the opportunities.
Not only was this town a place where I grew up, it was a place I returned to after working in another state as a single professional woman. My stay was intended to be temporary so I rented an apartment in the upper floor of an old house that reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore’s apartment. I loved the independence yet within months I met my first husband. We married and began a life together in this very same apartment. Suddenly I realized how differently two people can engage the simple things in life. From how to shop for groceries, how to decorate, how to entertain family, the apartment provided space for clarifying conversations, negotiations, and compromises. This home was about navigating differences to create home with another.
Before long the apartment did not provide enough space for our expanding lives. We wanted more room to live. Specifically, we wanted a yard and a dog. A two story, yellow house on Tremont Street, built in the early 1950’s, became our first house. While only in this house for a year, it taught us how to be a homeowner and what was involved in meeting the needs of a house. Walls required painting, kitchen counters were replaced, and the out of control yard demanded a disciplined plan and execution. The hours spent after work and on weekends belonged to ‘the house.’ This house taught me about home ownership and its responsibilities.
Lastly, I found myself in front of the final house I called home in this community. What is the perfect house for a newly divorced woman? One that provides grace and healing. Consumed by the consequences of leaving a marriage, challenged and impassioned by my work, and strengthened by my emerging womanhood, this house welcomed me into a safe space to reflect on who I was. Here I could breathe. The rooms of this small house hugged each other, natural light entered in just the right places to invite hope and clarity, while the 1930’s design brought joy and contentment. A relaxing deck, pond with beautiful fish, and large yard with raised bed gardens gave me the natural world to think and be. This house quieted the noise in my life so I could hear my own voice.
Now I am living in an American foursquare named Simplicity. Here is where Don and I have invigorating conversations that help us explore our artistic endeavors. Here is where I designed and birthed my consulting business, Spatial Impact. This is where I decided to go back to graduate school in my late fifties. Simplicity is where I began painting and writing, became a grandparent, and grew comfortably into the name of Jazz. This house has invited play, creativity and a determination to try new endeavors.
Each of the houses I have lived in has been well loved. Each has provided a space for me to learn and grow myself awake. Each has been a marriage of sorts – for better, for worse.
If you, Dear Reader, were to list the places you have lived, I wonder how each home has shaped your life?